Iskander: Blog

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News about Through different Eyes

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With the holidays upon us, I have had some increased writing time. This has allowed me to complete up to Chapter 15 of Through different Eyes with Chapters 1 to 14 of this sequel to Through my Eyes. Again. now available on my Patreon. The link for this is in my profile.

For those of you who prefer to hold a book in your hand, a paperback edition of Through my Eyes. Again. is now available on Amazon - with the ebook version available through Bookapy.

Have a great and safe festive season, I'll be back with more of Col's diary after Christmas.

Iskander

(Robert Hart)

Where the muse takes you…

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… is not always where you thought you were going

The exigencies of everyday life frequently eat into my writing time. Each day, I try to write for at least twenty minutes - even if all I get done is to read over the previous day's effort and fix the awfulness I find there. On one occasion, that correction resulted in nearly 1,000 words being cut. (The words are not lost forever; they end up in a 'cuts' file from whence some may experience resurrection.)

When I sit down to write, Through different Eyes (the sequel to my debut novel Through my Eyes. Again.) is where my focus should be - but that's not always the case. One scene I was writing recently required me to delve more deeply into the back story of a character - and as a result I found myself working on a second short story about another SOE girl to accompany Mrs Henderson's Limp. Let me explain …

The mother of the main character in Through different Eyes spent 10 years as a child and teenager in Nazi prisons but mostly in Ravensbrück concentration camp, the only all-women camp run by the Nazis. Through her forced labour there, she came into contact with several English girls who had been working for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) as agents in occupied Europe. In the distorted circumstances of the camp, she was the only friendly contact these young women had - and she started to learn English. One day she arrived in the cell block to slop out the cells just after one had been led out and executed by an SS Officer. The officer taunted her for shedding tears over a spy. Twenty years after the war's end, the mother thinks she has seen that SS Officer's photo in a newspaper - and discovers she has not, as she believed, worked her way past the hatred stemming from those years.

Before I could write that scene, I needed to think through what had happened immediately before - and the best way I know how to do that was to write - write the execution. Strangely, it came out in the first-person point of view (POV) of the SOE girl. In this context, telling the story in the first person felt odd; but it almost wrote itself and, despite being about an execution, it is neither graphically violent nor unremittingly dark.

Satisfied that I had the setting and background I needed, I wrote the scene in the sequel - and carried on. But the SOE agent stood beside me for several days, quietly insisting I tell her complete story - until I acquiesced. This has involved significant research into how and where SOE operatives were recruited and trained, SOE operations in Europe - and the story is now over 9,000 words and I am splitting my writing time between these two projects.

The more I research, the more awestruck I am by these women. I can trace the start of this interest to a trip to Europe. I learned French and German at school and love travelling in Europe, made easier by my rusty but still usable languages. For many years I had resisted visiting a concentration camp, reasoning that I knew their dark story and did not need to visit places that would cast a shadow over me for days. However, on this trip, I found my wife and I were going to drive right past Dachau concentration camp. But that beautiful summer's day, we didn't drive past, we stopped and tried to prepare ourselves for what lay ahead as we walked down a tree-lined pathway filled with bird calls.

These are not pleasant places to visit: the aura of cruelty and death lingers - even though Dachau was a small camp, responsible for 'only' about 50,000 deaths. We saw the gates with their terrifying, duplicitous promise - Arbeit macht Frei - Work sets you free and started walking round the remaining buildings, execution walls and burial pits, each with their simple, stark explanatory signs in many languages - and I heard a German school teacher explaining all this to his teenage class. Passing the gas chamber, we arrived at the crematorium.

There on the wall is a plaque commemorating four SOE girls, executed on 12th September 1944.

In this place dripping in blood and tears, I am unable to say why this plaque has stayed with me. Is it because they are English and that somehow speaks to my English heritage in a way all the other deaths at Dachau do not?

But they are not English. Yolande Beekman was born in Paris to a Swiss father and English mother, Noorunisa Inayat Khan was born in Moscow to an Indian Muslim father and an American mother, Madeleine Damerment was French, born in Lille, Éliane Plewman was born in Marseille to an English father and Spanish mother.

I've pondered this plaque and its place in my mind and the only explanation I find is that these women represent humanity at its best in a place where humanity showed its worst. The SOE women knew the incredible dangers they faced in occupied Europe - and they still went, determined to play their part in the liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny. Many of them, like these four, never returned. In a way, the short story I am writing is my tribute to these courageous women.

As a writer, I am more a 'by the seat of my pants' writer (a pantser in writing vernacular) than a planner and so I am used to scenes in a chapter going places I had not expected. But this is the first time I have had the experience of being dragged out of one story - by a character that does not even appear in the original - to write that character's story.

The muse really can take you to unexpected places.




Note: I cannot post the link to the plaque on the Dachau crematorium wall, but if you search for "SOE Dachau" and go to images, you will find it.

The story behind the cover of "Through my Eyes. Again."

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I've been asked by a few people about the cover of Through my Eyes. Again. as it's a bit different from the 'usual' modern covers. As I started writing an explanation, I thought that a wider audience might like a glimpse of what goes on behind the final production of the book. A cover is the 'hook' that first attracts a reader and so it needs to be well baited with elements that hint at the story.

The overall design of the cover echoes an East German propaganda poster from 1970 (you can see this on my Patreon) by a Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR - communist East Germany) artist, Klaus Bernsdorf. This was found by Chris during his research and you can see this influence in the cover design.

Initially we planned to use the poster on the back cover and our echo on the front. I got in touch with the German Historical Museum in Berlin, trying to track down copyright. They were very helpful and were able to locate the name of the artist, but could not trace an address. As the copyright had returned to the artist when the DDR ceased to exist with the reunification of Germany, that meant we could not use the poster itself without breaking copyright. Work on the back cover continues - but it will only be needed if I decide to produce a print edition. (I have acknowledged Klaus Bernsdorf's work as the inspiration for the cover design in the front pages of the book.)

The novel is mostly set in Herne Bay and Beltinge, in the county of Kent in the UK during the Cold War in the early 1960s; I felt the cover should reflect this time and location. Herne Bay is a seaside town on the north Kent coast and used to have one of the longest 19th Century piers in Europe. Initially, I thought we could use an image of the pier. However, neglect, fire and storms have practically destroyed the entire structure and I couldn't find the right picture from earlier times. As a result I went looking for some other landmark.

On the Herne Bay seafront, close to what was the entry to the pier, is a clock tower. After considering various options with Chris, I decided that this was an appropriate landmark for the top part of the cover.

One of the important characters in TMEA is a child that grew up in the city of Leipzig in what was then East Germany, before escaping to the West a few weeks before the start of the novel. As with all German cities during World War II, Leipzig suffered extensive damage from bombing by the RAF and US Army Air Corp - and was then fought over in the closing stages of the war. The lower picture is of Leipzig in 1945. Chris came up with the idea of eyes of different ages - picking up the time-slip element of the novel.

"Through my Eyes. Again." published

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Through my Eyes. Again. is now being published, with a release date of 24th March, 2021. I have been able to do this because of the interest and support shown by readers here.

My thanks, to you all!

In other news, work continues on the sequel, Through different Eyes, with draft chapters posted to my Patreon. As part of the marketing effort for TMEA, I am writing a short story 'prequel' for TMEA. Once TMEA launches, I'll post that here.

Stay safe, wherever you are.

TMEA editing in final phase

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Through my Eyes. Again. is now back with my editor for a final run at grammar and punctuation.This has meant that I have had time to continue work on the sequel, Through different Eyes. The first draft of Chapter 6 is now up on my Patreon (see the link in my profile).

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